Posts from — January 2011

Caught Up In International Conflict While Vacationing or on Business Travel and Mass Violence Breaks Out

The week of January 24, 2011 Cairo Egypt. After saving up for that once in a lifetime visit to the Eastern Mediterranean to behold the great Pyramids, the Nile River and the land once ruled by Cleopatra and the child King Tutankhamen, you’ve just awakened to find mass demonstrations, rioting, anarchy, military tanks in the streets, fighter aircraft flying low overhead and more than 100 dead citizens. Hmm, this might be that magic moment when you turn to your spouse and say, “Houston we have a problem!” For the past week, this is a stark reality for thousands of people visiting Egypt.

The alternate scenario might read: your company’s international business development team, working in outlying territories on a construction project, learns over morning tea that traveling back to Cairo or Alexandria by automobile is now extremely dangerous. The roads to your in-country office and local airports are experiencing extremist attacks, demonstrations with government riot police crack downs, and aggressive military patrols. Once you gain access to local television and learn that conditions are pretty bad, your business associates are telling you things are likely to get worse before they get better. Well now that you’ve got a good general grasp of the dire straits you’re in, you’ve discovered that the Internet is down, your GSM phone can’t get a connection (it’s fully charged and was working fine yesterday?), and you are unable to send SMS text messages. What the heck is going on?

Over the years, international travelers and business persons have found themselves in similar predicaments in different areas of the world, with varying degrees of danger and with an increasing degree of frequency. Some countries that recently come to mind are Tunisia, Thailand, and Lebanon and Haiti.

Before you find yourself caught up in an untenable international crisis with few options (other than praying), consider, if you will, the following points.

  1. Have you done your homework on the region of the world where you’ll be traveling BEFORE the trip, with your physician, security advisors and US Department of State activities like OSAC? Had you given any thought to emergency evacuation for medical or other reasons?
  2. When you arrived in-country, did you check in with the US embassy Regional Security Officer (RSO) or consulate? Do you know the location of the closest US Embassy to where you will be visiting? Do you know how to navigate to that Embassy with, or without, local assistance? Getting to a US Embassy is one step closer to getting home! Knowing the locations of British, Canadian and Australian Embassies is a good back up plan!
  3. Now that you are in the “thick of it”, are you safe at your present location or are you in imminent danger? Make this assessment quickly and with every bit of information available to you.
  4. Try not to stand out, thus making yourself a target of opportunity for criminals or terrorists. Blend in, don’t stand out in the crowd and certainly do not act like an “ugly American”. Better yet, it may be a really good idea not to be in that crowd. That’s simply an invitation for extremists or aggressive internal security forces to make you a target.
  5. What person(s) in positions of authority know where you are (either at home or abroad) and are they advised of your most current status and situation (e.g. health, welfare and itinerary)?
  6. If your primary communications plan (e.g using your cellular telephone) is compromised (read unusable) what is your back up, contingency and emergency communication contact plan? How will you put it into action?
  7. Do you have an established contact schedule or are you out there by yourself…alone? Have a communications plan and stick to it!
  8. Do you have access to clean, potable water or a means to treat and filter drinking water? You will need drinking water every day until you can get out of the country. Food is important but never more important than water! Make sure whatever you eat is fully cooked. Now is not the time to get sick.
  9. Do you have all your necessary medications if your stay in-country is extended or copies of your prescriptions with you so you can try to obtain them locally? A second pair of glasses or contact lenses is also highly recommended. Have you considered a first aid kit and a full complement of over the counter medications (e.g. pain killers, antibiotics, anti-diarrheal, decongestants, antacids, etc.) and a dental repair kit in your travel kit and/or Bail Out Bag?
  10. Do you have a stash of emergency cash (both US and local currencies) to buy what you may need on the street? When our personnel were “on the ground” during both the first and second Gulf Wars they carried several thousand dollars each so if they needed to “buy” themselves out of a situation, they could. Currency icons Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Benjamin Franklin are well known throughout the world. Real Rolex watches also work!
  11. Protect your passport at all costs! Your passport affords you the courtesies and privileges of a US citizen, especially at the gates of a US Embassy! Depending on the crisis situation you find yourself in, you may not want to widely advertise this fact.
  12. Consider you may be targeted for arrest by foreign police or security forces or could potentially become a criminal or terrorist kidnapping victim. Prior travel safety training could help you prevent just such a situation from occurring. In the worst-case scenario it could at least help you survive a violent hostage-taking event. .

International Travel Essentials

Safety and Security Education and Training. If you are going to be traveling outside the United States of America, be culturally and politically sensitive to the goings-on in the part of the world in which you are traveling. Further more, take an independent study or in-person training course on travel safety. If you’ll be going into potentially politically unstable countries or countries with resident terrorist populations, request or obtain Anti-Terrorist Awareness, Hostage Survival, and Aggressive Interrogation Resistance training.

Bail-Out Bag (aka Bug Out Bag). Much like the emergency sustainment system you have in your home, your vehicle and office, you’ll have a similar need abroad, but with a much smaller, compact and focused supply list. The Bail-Out Bag is designed for you to use on the move until you can get to a safe location. Consider the following items as part of your Bail-Out Bag.

  1. Mobile Cellular Phone. Cell phones are indeed one of the best ways to communicate with home or office when on travel. That is, when they work. Mobile phones are vulnerable to issues from simple dead battery issues and lack of chargers to being electronically jammed or the terrestrial cellular networks being made inoperable due to disaster damage or, as in the recent situation in Egypt, government interruption of communications.
  2. Map, Compass & GPS. Always pay attention to the basics. A good street map and compass will also help you figure out where you are and the direction you need to be traveling.  Take the time in advance to denote major landmarks, airports, safe zones, embassies, transportation, grocery stores, etc. When you get into country you can enter these landmarks into your GPS as a back-up to your map and compass.  Now you can navigate.  Make sure you have some chemlights and a small headlamp with spare batteries.
  3. Radio. For international use you should have a good small AM/FM/SW radio. You’ll need to have the most current information available and this is the best way to get it. One of our favorites when overseas is the BBC radio station and Reuters.
  4. SPOT. This is the heat! The new advanced, yet simple to use SPOT technology would be an ideal communications application for persons stranded in the current situation in Egypt. The SPOT handheld personal GPS satellite messenger can send “I’m ok”, or “I need assistance” or an urgent “SOS” request for immediate help along with your specific GPS coordinates. The SOS message is sent to a manned ground center that helps coordinate “local” rescue efforts direct to your GPS geographic coordinate in many areas of the world. The simple-to-operate handheld device sends both SMS text messages to Smartphones and email messages to groups of pre-designated contacts around the world. SPOT does not use landline or cellular communications networks. SPOT’s newest innovation is the SPOT Connect which pairs with your Smartphone using Bluetooth and allows you to send a 41 character “freeform” text message from areas with no cellular service AND your geo-coordinates direct to the Globalstar satellite constellation. This is truly game-changing technology in the realm of emergency preparedness and crisis communications. This technology is affordable and very reliable. If communications with your home or office is absolutely essential for safety, security or personal reasons use a SATPHONE.
  5. Personal Safety and Security Items. Flashlight or headlamp, whistle, first aid kit, water filter and treatment tablets, emergency vehicle escape tool with seatbelt cutter, and a medium to large fanny pack. There is much more to be added to this specialized emergency preparedness package.

Travel safely and securely!


January 31, 2011   2 Comments

Help! Is Someone There? The Role of Relief Organizations in Disaster Recovery

May 21, 1881. Washington D.C. Clara Barton and several close acquaintances meet together to form the American Red Cross. Later, in 1905 the Red Cross is given a charter by the United States Congress with a mission of “giving relief to and serving as a medium of communication between members of the American armed forces and their families and providing national and international disaster relief and mitigation”. This factoid might propagate the misconception that the Red Cross is a functional arm of the United States Government. While it is true that the President of the United States sits as the honorary Chairman of the Red Cross and appoints eight governors of the national organization, they receive no funding or other resources from federal or local government. The Red Cross functions solely on private contributions and volunteers.

The Red Cross (and its sister organization The Red Crescent Society) is arguably the most internationally recognized disaster relief organization in the world. In fact, ask your friends and coworkers what organization they would call upon during a time of disaster for assistance. I’ll bet you the boss’s salary that one of the top two answers will be the Red Cross. The other one you’ll hear? FEMA. (only betting the boss’s salary on the Red Cross though)

This begs the question: Is our hope of relief during disastrous circumstances well placed? You won’t read a negative word here about the Red Cross. The organization provides a tremendous service in our own local communities, across the nation, and certainly around the world. They are, however, ultimately limited by the donations they receive and the degree of volunteer response. The Red Cross would be the first to admit that their resources are anything but limitless.

Just seven years ago a massive tsunami in the Indian Ocean took 220,000 lives throughout Southeast Asia in one of the most devastating disasters in modern history. Less than a year ago, the Eyjafjallajokul volcano in Iceland spewed an ash cloud larger than all of Europe and wreaked havoc on international air travel for weeks. This month winter weather continues to slam parts of our country from the deep South and Midwest to the Northeast. Europe’s winter began with a vengeance in November, with significant snowfall and record-breaking temperatures. Year after year, these emergency-laden events continue to unfold. History proves that calamities ebb and flow like the tides, but they inevitably continue.

Much has been published recently (including on this blog) about the New Madrid Fault Zone in the south central United States and the massive destruction that would occur over a minimum five state region should a large earthquake emanate from that fault zone.

The devastation of such an event is probably beyond our comprehension. There is no doubt that organizations such as FEMA or the Red Cross and dozens of other likeminded organizations would struggle to mitigate the aftermath of such a catastrophe. In reality, it would all come down to the individual.

But doesn’t it always? Emergency sustainment on any large scale can only produce measurable success if the essential foundation blocks are already in place. Individual, personal emergency preparation are those foundation blocks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency clearly states “FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.” (Italics added)

In a webinar given earlier this month, FEMA discussed in detail the Whole of Community concept. This webinar emphasized the need to shift from a “government-centric” approach in disaster sustainment to utilizing communities (defined as large as a town or neighborhood and as minute as an individual family).

We simply cannot rely upon organizations, government or private sector, to sustain us during calamity. History preaches such. Common sense validates the evidence. Even the government itself now emphasizes the point.

And yet, so many of us have decided to do exactly that by choosing to not individually prepare ourselves, our families, and our “community” (workplace, church group, etc). Regardless of our political or social views, how can we argue that we are not fast becoming a wholly dependent nation. Disagree? What’s in your freezer? What’s in your refrigerator? What’s on your pantry shelves? Right now. How long could you last if the grocery store that you visit multiple times during the month from this very moment on no longer had anything on their shelves to sell you? Could you survive three months? A month? How about a week?

No matter how organized, effective and well-funded FEMA may eventually become; regardless of the future generosity of contributors and volunteers at the Red Cross; our ultimate survival in the face of any real significant disaster will fall solely on our own shoulders. Are we prepared for such responsibility?

Of course it can be overwhelming, but we can’t let that fact immobilize us! Don’t forget the method for eating the proverbial elephant… one bite at a time. (not sure who wants to eat an elephant as I hear they’re a bit on the tough side, but the metaphor is applicable).

So start small. But… just start. This approach works whether you are a “community” of one or have dozens of people in a place of business for whom you are responsible.

  • First begin with the basic essentials. Secure 72 hours of drinkable water for you, your family, or your employees. You can live 72 hours without food. 72 hours without water, however, and you are going to have a serious medical condition on your hands pretty quickly.
  • Then add 72 hours worth of food.
  • Next add accommodation for sanitation needs, medical supplies, emergency equipment, sheltering materials, emergency lighting.
  • Once you’ve built out your initial sustainment system, expand it beyond 72 hours – again starting with life-saving needs first.

Certainly we express gratitude for the tremendous support during disastrous times from such great organizations as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the United Way, as well as dozens of faith-based organizations such as Catholic Charities USA, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Baptist World Aid. We also acknowledge that we live in a country which cares enough about its citizens to create and strives to improve an organization such as FEMA to help the country in time of great need.

But none of it works without us. The individual. We are the essential foundation blocks to disaster survival and recovery. So let’s begin.


January 24, 2011   1 Comment

On this day we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the conclusion the famous 1963 “March on Washington” with a quarter of a million people in attendance, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a minister for Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama began his famous 16-minute speech.  To this day his inspired words, courage, and tenacity sound as a clarion call to remind the people of this great nation, regardless of race, gender, or religious beliefs that we must continue Dr. King’s fight of true equality amongst all men and women.  Equality is not a destination to which we arrive.  It is a continuing journey along which we must be ever vigilant to ensure parity for one and all.  None has ever said it better than the great Dr. King and today we honor this great man and hope you take a moment to read his famous words.

“I Have A Dream”, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

January 17, 2011   No Comments